Things to Do in Rome - page 6
Rome may be home to the Vatican, but not everyone who lives - or dies - there is Catholic. In fact, with the many English travelers coming through Rome on the Grand Tour, followed by the many writers and artists who moved to Rome over the years, a cemetery for non-Catholics was required.
The first burial in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome was in 1738. It’s also commonly called the Cemetery of the English (Cimitero degli Inglesi), although the official name is now “Non-Catholic Cemetery,” with graves for anyone who isn’t Catholic - not just Protestants or the English.
Of course, the moniker “Cemetery of the English” is understandable, given some of the graves located here. The most famous are John Keats (1821) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822). Other notable graves include American poet Gregory Corso, Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, and sons of both Goethe and of Percy and Mary Shelley.
Featuring Greek and Roman antiquities that once belonged to Rome’s nobility, the Palazzo Altemps offers a glimpse into the past — as well as into Rome’s Renaissance. The collection contains many marble statues in addition to frescoes, mosaics, and intricately decorated ceilings. Most famously it also houses the Ludovisi art collection. Curated by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in the 17th century, it includes such classical pieces as Trono Ludovisi (Ludovisi Throne), a carved marble block with a relief of the goddess Venus. The Galata Suicida (Gaul’s Suicide) is another grouping of masterful statues that is a highlight for many.
Aside from the Roman pieces there is also a fine Egyptian collection on display featuring many Eastern antiquities. The building itself features a large scenic courtyard and many rooms filled with classical sculpture. The 15th century palazzo is one of four buildings across the city that make up the National Roman Museum.
Reopened to the public in 2011 after over 20 years of restoration work, the House of the Vestal Virgins is among the most fascinating of Rome’s ancient ruins. Dating back to the 6th century BC, the 50-room complex stood next to the Temple of Vesta, and was home to the six high priestesses of the Cult of Vesta. The priestesses, virgins chosen from noble Roman families, were tasked with keeping the sacred flame - revered as a symbol of Rome’s eternal life - of the Temple of Vesta alight and each served up to 30 years.
Today, the sparse ruins merely hint at the once-lavish residence and mostly date back to 64AD, when it was rebuilt after a fire. Visitors can follow the ancient Via Nova from Palatine Hill to the Temple of Vesta, and view the remains of the large atrium, two-story portico and a series of statues the Vestales.
Not to be confused with Florence's Palazzo Corsini, Rome's own Palazzo Corsini and the land it sits on changed hands many times over the centuries before coming to house the offices of the National Academy of Science and first-floor Corsini Gallery as it does today. Surrounded by formal gardens, the Baroque palace's gallery exhibits Italian art with Renaissance showstoppers such as Caravaggio's St John the Baptist (1606), St Sebastian (1614) by Rubens and works by Guido Reni, Fra'Angelico and Carracci. In addition, late 18th-century pieces, historical art and landscape paintings are included.
Otherwise known as the National Gallery of Antique Art or the Galleria Corsini, this gallery is somewhat of a hidden gem with its light crowds and extensive collection of ancient art. Travelers will love exploring the manicured grounds and can note that the gallery's Roman sister collections include Palazzo Barberini and Galleria Borghese.
More Things to Do in Rome
Some call the entire Palatine Hill an open-air museum, but there's an actual Palatine Museum set among the ruins, too.
Most of the appeal of a visit to the Palatine Hill is to walk through the ancient Roman ruins, imagining what it might have been like to live and work in them 2,000 years ago. Besides the structures themselves and the frescoes that are forever adhered to the walls, the items that archaeologists have recovered during excavations of the site are often put into the Palatine Museum. Some pieces in the museum's collection date from well before the city of Rome was officially founded, while most of the artifacts date to the 1st and 2nd century.
Officially called the Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round, Santo Stefano Rotondo gets its more commonly-known nickname from its shape – it's one of the world's oldest and largest circular churches.
The church was built in the 5th century, and although it was altered in the 6th and 7th centuries and then quite drastically in the 15th century, the central part of the church remains the original 5th century design. In addition to the church's shape, the other main attraction are the gruesome frescoes that line the outer wall. There are 34 scenes of martyrdom depicted, painted in the 16th century, each with a brief explanation of who was martyred and who gave the order.
Amid the ancient ruins and Renaissance frescos of Rome is MAXXI, Italy’s first national contemporary art museum—and a welcome change of pace. True to its name, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts (Museo Nazionale Delle Arti del XXI Secolo) features over 300 artworks from 1970 on and by artists around the world, like the avant-garde sculptures of Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, and includes a second space dedicated solely to contemporary architecture. Changing exhibits and an array of paintings, installations, video art and photography put a modern twist on the Eternal City’s art scene, with the added benefit of skipping the crowds found at Rome’s more historic sites.
Given its location on the outskirts of the city center (and its lack of mention of any of the four Ninja Turtles’ names), MAXXI is often overlooked by tourists, offering art buffs the chance to stroll its dynamic 300-foot-long (90-meter) galleries at leisure.
Inside the Galleria Agostiniana, part of the must-see Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, is the small Leonardo da Vinci Museum, dedicated entirely to the great inventor and artist. What started out as a temporary exhibition is now permanently housed in a church on the busy Piazza del Popolo. Larger museums dedicated to the life and work of Leonardo are in Milan, Florence, or even the artist’s hometown of Vinci, but the Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Rome is a great comprehensive look at his Renaissance works.
The museum’s collection features more than 60 inventions modeled after Leonardo’s machines. There are more than 120 pieces on display throughout the museum, including artistic studies of famous pieces like “The Last Supper” and “Vitruvian Man.” Some of the models are interactive, making this a good option for families traveling with children.
Among the ruins on the Palatine Hill is a structure that experts believe was built for Emperor Augustus' wife, Livia. It's known as the House of Livia, and is still being excavated.
The House of Livia was probably built in the early 1st century B.C.E., with frescoes added later in that century. Livia made this her primary residence, staying even after the emperor had died, when her son Tiberius became Rome's second emperor. The building's frescoes are wonderfully well-preserved, and feature an ancient trompe l'oeil effect with painted ceilings designed to look like coffers and painted scenes made to look like views through open windows.
Rome’s opera house, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, is a 19th-century theater in the city center and the Italian capital’s main opera house.
The original theater opened in 1880 with the name Teatro Costanzi. It was later renamed the Teatro Reale dell’Opera and underwent some minor structural changes in the 1920s, and renamed again in 1946 as the Teatro dell’Opera. The theater was largely remodeled in the late 1950s to the structure that stands today.
The theater has five tiers of seating in a semicircle around the floor seating and facing the stage. Three of the tiers have theater boxes, while the uppermost two tiers have several graduated rows of seating. Like many great theaters, it is bedecked in red velvet and accented with gold. The current seating capacity is 1,600 people.
According to locals, the Biblical icon Saint Paul spent two years on house arrest living in the darkened crypt beneath Santa Maria in via Lata. While some claim it was Saint Peter or Luke or even Saint John who once called this church home, it’s clear that no matter who lived in the shadows of this stunning building’s lower levels, Santa Maria is a seriously holy structure.
Religion pilgrims make their way each year to the statue of the Virgin Advocate, which is said to have performed many miracles. Travelers can wander the nave and explore the chapels of Santa Maria, where alabaster, marble and lapis relief work, as well as stunning frescos and old canvas painting decorate the walls.
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